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August 1996, Vol. 119, No. 8
Computers may be the most profound technology since steam power ignited the Industrial Revolution. Computer technology is altering the form, nature, and future course of the American economy, increasing the flow of products, creating entirely new products and services, altering the way firms respond to demand, and launching an information highway that is leading to the globalization of product and financial markets.
In addition to affecting the methods of production among firms, computers are changing the relationship between labor and organization. The traditional pyramid-shaped organizational structure of most corporate firms is the by-product of the Industrial Revolution, which moved work from the individual or family unit to an organizational structure.
Computer technology challenges the traditional management hierarchy, moving many organizations from a pyramid-shaped structure to a flatter structure. Historically, decisions were passed from top management to the next management layer; today, computers permit companies to communicate throughout their organizations instantaneously, without regard for traditional management structures.1 Such wider distribution of authority in some companies has put new emphasis on enhancing labor efficiency by replacing fragmented work with integrated work tasks. This can lead to upgrading worker skills, as shifting flexibility among the production of various goods and services requires a more highly trained work force.1
This issue of the Monthly Labor Review explains how computers have affected jobs in selected manufacturing and services industries and in high-tech defense industries, and discusses an emerging market made possible by computers the home market. This article presents an overview of the six articles included in this series; it begins by summarizing some of the rapid changes that have occurred in computer technology over the years.
This excerpt is from an article published in the August 1996 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Howard Isenberg, "The Second Industrial Revolution - The Impact of the Information Explosion," Industrial Engineering, March 1995, p. 15.
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